Elon Musk’s The Boring Company may have a drab name, but details on the billionaire’s project to dig tunnels under LA and send cars shuttling through at high speed are anything but dull. Musk outlined some of what he has in mind today, speaking at the TED conference. As you might expect, these are no simple tunnels you drive in and out of.
Instead, as a new concept video released by the startup suggests, vehicles will be dropped into the tunnel network from road level on a system of elevator platforms. Cars will drive onto the platform – unsurprisingly, The Boring Company opted to illustrate that with a shiny red Tesla Model S – and then be lowered down through to the correct route. There, unlike existing tunnels, they won’t be expected to drive themselves.
Instead, the platform that lowered them will be used as a sled, or a “Skate” in the company’s parlance. That will be controlled autonomously by the overarching tunnel system, and carry the car to its destination. Speeds of up to 130 mph are envisaged.
Though that might not be as fast as, say, the speed you could achieve in a Hyperloop system, it’s a lot swifter than what you could do on ground level in Los Angeles. That was Musk’s initial frustration, and the stimulus to the whole project. Having sat in traffic in LA on numerous occasions as he commuted from home to his headquarters and then back again later in the day, the eccentric entrepreneur decided the answer wasn’t just self-driving vehicles but taking a completely different route.
At the time, many thought he was joking. Instead, Musk threw some money at the project, and bought a tunneling machine. That’s been slowly beginning its digging process, though Musk says his team is already looking at how the excavation’s efficiency can be improved with homegrown designs.
The tunnel network, Musk says, could feasibly be vast. Numerous different routes could snake their way around each other, combined with many ingress and egress points, and all presumably controlled by a single AI that would act as remote driver, navigator, and safety controller. When, exactly, we might be able to slip under the roads and have our cars turn into subterranean transit pods remains to be seen.
Still, Musk seems confident that going underground rather than up in the air is the practical way forward. Compared to flying cars, he’s pointed out, a tunnel network is far more straightforward, not to mention safer.